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Church Bells and Steeples

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Tower in centre-line of Front Elevation
St. Elias, Bale

Free-standing bell-tower
Visitazione della Beata Vergine, Bale

Types of Romanesque bell towers in Istria

Apart from the many churches in Istria that have a bell gable (campanile a vela), there are 230 steeples in Istria. Of these, 217 are historic.1 The following is a summary of an article written by Damir Demonja.

In Istria we may distinguish between types of Romanesque steeples / bell towers: 

  1. a tower erected on the centre-line of the main front 
  2. free-standing bell towers - campaniles 
  3. bell towers adjoining or incorporated in a wall of the church 
  4. bell towers within the perimeter of the walls on the west side
  5. bell towers erected above the chancel
  6. so-called "open" bell towers

The church of St. Elias near Bale has its bell-tower prominently located on the centre-line of the front elevation. The walls of the tower are organically joined to the west wall of the church up to the roof level, which is evidence that they were erected at the same time. A flying buttress beneath the biforium is supported by a dentellated corbel, which clearly dates the tower as belonging to the 11th century. 

Features of the free-standing bell-tower or campanile are its solid structure, its height, the mainly non-segmented carved decoration of its panels; the topmost storey is pierced by Romanesque single or double embrasures, and the roof is pyramidal or conical. Our example is the bell-tower of the parish church in Bale, which has Romanesque features and semi-circular arched biforia on the top storey. The concil apex to its tapering structure, stressing its vertical dimension, is Gothic in character. These features would suggest a date about the middle of the 14th century. 

Bell-tower annexed to side wall S. George the "elder", Plomin.

Bell-tower within church perimeter S. Lawrence, Sv. Lovreč.

A bell-tower annexed to a side wall or to the front elevation has the same morphological characteristics as the free-standing bell-tower or campanile. One example is the bell-tower of the Church of St. George the Elder in Plomin. A bell-tower within the perimeter of the church on the west side has the same formal features we encounter in the two preceding types. The only example in Istria is the belfry of St. Lawrence's church in the cemetery near Sutlovreč Pazenatički. Even this attribution is valid only up to a point, for it may be matter of a later adaptation. The stylistic features of the bell-tower are Romanesque-Gothic, and it might possibly be dated as mid-fourteenth century.

Two special and unique forms of Istrian bell-tower are: 

  • the bell-tower erected over the chancel of the church 
  • the so-called "open" bell-tower
St. George, Zavrsje
Bell-tower of the Church of St. George, between Završje and Grožnjan.

The bell-tower above the chancel in St. George's church located between Završje and Grožnjan is the sole example of a bell-tower of this type in Istria. It was probably built in the 13th century above the south apse, from dressed stones arranged in layers, and on a rectangular ground-plan. Halfway up it tapers gradually towards the summit, it lacks decoration and segmentation and is closed at the first floor level. The entrance to the tower is on the south side, with an outside staircase leading to a door opening above the crown of the apse. This type of bell-tower is not common in Italy, where in fact it occurs very rarely, and the only example known to me is the bell-tower of the abbey church in Summaga. In Slovenia, on the other hand, in its northern part which is affiliated more to Austria and Germany, there are number of examples of a similiar design. However, the bell-tower over the southern apse of St. George's church between Završje and Grožnjan is the result of a reductive process involving a bell-tower above the chancel with its memorial shrine at ground level. When the bell-tower is thus sited, the chancel acquires an external distinguishing feature; this manner of erecting bell towers was current from the 11th century onwards. 

The so-called "open" bell-tower is probably from northern Italy: it is familiar to us from a fairly dilapidated example - St. Thomas's church near Rovinj [not pictured]. At the northern end of the north side of the church a square bell-tower rises up by the centre of the wall. Its northern wall is pierced by a deep niche with a semi-circular arch, while its uppermost floor has broad semicircular apertures. More or less in the wider vicinity a similiar bell-tower may be found in the church of St. John the Baptist in Treviso.



  • Photographs and first sentence - Daniela Milotti Bertoni, Istria, Duecento Campanili Storici - Two Hundred Historic Steeples, Bruno Fachin Editore (Trieste, 1997)

  • Text (except first sentence) - Ministry of Science and Technology,  project 6-02-105 - Damir Demonja, "A note on Types of Romanesque bell towers in Istria" -


  • Bell gable: (arch.), a small gable-shaped construction, pierced with one or more openings, and used to contain bells; a small turret placed on the ridge of a church roof (otherwise described as a portion of a wall that projects above the roof line in the form of a gable) to hold one or more bells.

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Created: Sunday, July 14, 2002; Last updated: Thursday, June 30, 2016
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